The Use of Safety and Risk Assessment in Child Protection Cases - Georgia

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 4.2; 19.11

From the policy manual: The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) shall complete the initial safety assessment (ISA) within 72 hours of the assigned response time, including the following:

  • Conducting a private face-to-face purposeful contact with the alleged child victim to assess and address child safety
  • Taking action when present or impending danger is identified
  • Beginning an assessment of family functioning
  • Making a safety determination
  • Engaging each household member face-to-face and privately to discuss the maltreatment allegations and assess child safety and family functioning, including the following individuals:
    • Alleged child victim(s)
    • Each parent
    • All adult household members
    • Other children in the home
    • Alleged maltreater(s)
  • Conducting a visual assessment of all children to determine if any injuries or signs maltreatment exist
  • Observing the physical home environment, including every room in the home, to determine if it is safe and appropriate to meet the needs of each child
  • Engaging in face-to-face purposeful contact with any children in the legal custody of the parents who do not reside in the home concerning child safety and family functioning
  • Engaging collateral contacts who can provide relevant information for assessing maltreatment allegations, child safety, and family functioning
  • Requesting State criminal history record information of adult household members when criminal history may impact child safety

The purpose of a safety assessment is to determine the degree in which a child is likely to suffer maltreatment in the immediate future. Methods for gathering foundational information during a safety assessment include the following:

  • Analyzing DFCS history and evaluating the impact on the current circumstances
  • Interviewing children, caregivers, current household members, and collaterals
  • Observing interactions between caregivers, children, and other household members and the physical conditions of the home environment
  • Obtaining and reviewing supporting documents (medical records, police reports, photographs, school records, etc.)

A safety assessment does not only focus on proving or disproving the events and occurrences (incidents) associated with the maltreatment. The information gathered is used to do the following:

  • Determine if the child is vulnerable to safety threats
  • Identify the presence of conditions or actions within the child's current living situation that represent the likelihood of imminent serious harm to the child (present or impending danger safety threats)
  • Evaluate caregiver protective capacities to determine if a caregiver can and will protect a child from safety threats
  • Examine how safety threats are occurring within the family to determine what is required to effectively control them, if applicable
  • Analyze and organize the information gathered around the following areas of family functioning to understand the significant factors affecting a child's safety, permanency, and well-being, including caregiver protective capacities:
    • Extent of the maltreatment; what is the presenting problem
    • Maltreatment context and circumstances; sequence of events
    • Family developmental stages and tasks
    • Individual caretaker patterns of behavior, general parenting
    • Child/youth functioning and development
    • The family's pattern of disciplining their children
    • Family supports

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 19.11; 19.12

DFCS shall make a child safety determination (safe or unsafe) by doing the following:

  • Determining if there is a present danger situation or impending danger safety threat
  • Assessing whether the child is vulnerable to identified safety threats
  • Evaluating the family functioning information gathered
  • Taking immediate action to control the safety threats if the child is determined to be unsafe
  • Ensuring supervisor input and oversight of all safety decisions

DFCS shall do the following:

  • Immediately develop a safety plan with the parent or legal guardian to manage child safety when a present danger situation or impending danger safety threat is identified
  • Use the least restrictive safety plan option to manage child safety, as follows:
    • In-home safety plan
    • One of the following out-of-home safety plan options:
      • Voluntary kinship care
      • Temporary alternatives to foster care (TAFC)
      • Foster care
  • Include the following in the safety plan:
    • Type of safety threat (present or impending danger)
    • The informal and formal resources being utilized to protect each child
    • The safety plan option (in-home or out-of-home)
    • Protective strategies to address safety threat(s), including who is responsible for and the timeframe for the strategy, the support person(s), and the safety support strategies
    • Caregiver capacity to implement the strategies and report safety issues to DFCS
  • Integrate the safety plan into the family's case/family plan

A safety plan is a written arrangement between a family and DFCS that establishes strategies to control safety threats that place a child in danger of ongoing or immediate serious harm. The safety plan must do the following:

  • Control or manage the present danger situation or the impending danger safety threat using the actions and services described within the plan
  • Have an immediate effect
  • Include persons involved in the plan who are immediately accessible and available

A safety plan developed to address present danger should be a short-term strategy capable of implementation the same day it is created and must include specific strategies to control or manage the present danger identified.

The safety plan developed to address impending danger is usually based on a fuller understanding of family functioning, and in, most cases, is not established during a period in which there is an active family crisis, as these situations are often more characteristic of a present danger situation. Safety plans should be regularly monitored to confirm the safety strategies implemented are controlling or managing safety threats, or if modification to the safety plan is required.

Acceptable safety plan options include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • In-home safety plan, including one of the following:
    • The maltreating caregiver leaves the home.
    • A support person temporarily moves into the home.
    • A support person assumes partial or full-time child supervision.
  • Out-of-home safety plan, including one of the following:
    • The child is cared for outside of the home by a voluntary kinship caregiver.
    • The child is temporarily cared for outside of the home by a kinship caregiver through a TAFC court order.
    • The child is placed in foster care.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 19.13

DFCS shall do the following:

  • Analyze and organize the information gathered around the following areas of family functioning to understand the significant factors affecting a child's safety, permanency, and well-being, including caregiver protective capacities:
    • Maltreatment/presenting problem
    • Maltreatment context and circumstances
    • Family developmental stages and tasks
    • Family's pattern of disciplining their children
    • Family support
    • Child/youth development
    • Individual caregiver patterns of behavior
  • Use the family functioning assessment (FFA) to inform the following:
    • Child safety, permanency, and well-being decisions
    • Develop family level outcomes (FLOs) and individual level outcomes (ILO's)
  • Complete the FFA as follows:
    • Prior to the conclusion of an investigation
    • At case evaluation intervals for family preservation services (FPS) cases
    • As part of the Comprehensive Child and Family Assessment (CCFA) for children in DFCS custody

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 8.3

The DFCS shall do the following:

  • Assist the family in constructing a way to think about the problem (safety concern) that promotes real change
  • Work collaboratively with the family to identify the behaviors that need to occur or the necessary skills a family must have to predict safety more accurately and to establish a partnership with the family focused on change
  • Use the case assessments to build the case plan
  • Engage the following individuals or entities in the case planning process:
    • Family members
    • Collaterals (formal and informal support system)
    • The Indian Tribe, if the child is subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act or a member of a Georgia Tribe
  • Incorporate the following into the case plans, when applicable:
    • The safety plan to address immediate safety issues
    • Plan of safe care
    • Measures to address identified 'at risk' behaviors in a family that may have a negative impact on a youth's successful transition to adulthood
    • Measures to address the safety and therapeutic needs of any child who has been identified as a known or suspected victim of sex trafficking
  • Develop quality case plans that are solution focused and have the following common characteristics:
    • Outcomes: Goals that are broken down into outcomes at both the family and individual level that clearly define behaviors family members will use instead of the harmful or unproductive behaviors, as follows:
      • Family level outcomes (FLO) describe what the family will be doing in everyday life to successfully resolve the problem or meet the child's needs. FLOs must be behaviorally specific and directly related to known situations that threaten child safety.
      • Individual level outcomes (ILO) describe the new behavior that an individual will demonstrate to successfully participate in the family-level outcomes. ILOs shall be directly related to the family event(s) or situations that need to improve.
    • Tasks: Outcomes are broken down into detailed sequential steps and can be described as follows:
      • Are obtainable
      • Cover both case management issues and everyday family behavior
      • Have clear descriptions of who will be involved in each step, what will be done, and when the task is to be done
  • Engage the family to develop a personalized action plan for addressing the FLOs and ILOs, including the everyday life tasks that will take place to change the conditions that lead to the unsafe situation and what will be done, who will do it, and when they will do it, using relapse prevention skills

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 19.12

DFCS shall do the following:

  • Monitor adherence to the safety plan at each purposeful contact with the child, parent or legal guardian, and collateral contact
  • Continuously assess the sufficiency of the safety plan to manage child safety and determine if the least restrictive safety plan option is being utilized
  • Modify the safety plan when any of the following occur:
    • It is determined to be insufficient to manage child safety.
    • A new safety threat is identified.
    • Safety threats have been mitigated.
  • Evaluate the sufficiency of the safety plan to manage child safety when a case transfer occurs between program areas or between case managers
  • Maintain a safety plan for as long as child safety threats exist and the family remains unable to provide for the child's safety

Due to the immediacy of a present danger situation, the case manager may implement a safety plan based on limited information. As such, it is imperative that the case manager continue to regularly monitor the safety plan to confirm that the safety strategies implemented are controlling or managing the situation and modify the safety plan as more information becomes available.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. # 10.26

The DFCS case manager shall do the following:

  • Review the case plan to determine if sufficient progress has been made to remedy the conditions that caused a child to enter foster care and assess the following:
    • The family's developmental stage
    • The family's interaction around specific everyday situations they were previously unable to safely manage, resulting in the emergence of safety threats
    • Observed and documented changes in behaviors and/or circumstances that alleviate safety concerns and enhance caregiver protective capacities, such as the family's development of specific skills, including the ability to do the following:
      • Identify high-risk situations
      • Identify early warning signals
      • Prevent high-risk situations
      • Interrupt high-risk situations not avoided
      • Escape situations not interrupted
  • Obtain feedback from all service providers regarding case closure (i.e., issues, concerns, and recommendations)
  • In cases involving substance abuse, do the following:
    • Obtain verification from the treatment provider that the parent has successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program, demonstrates behavior that supports a desire to maintain a sober lifestyle and the ability to provide protection and appropriate care for the child, and has a relapse plan that addresses child safety
    • Observe the parent's behavior for indicators that the parent is maintaining a sober lifestyle

The case manager shall conduct a family team meeting to discuss case closure, making a good faith effort to involve all family members in the discussion of the case closure. The discussion should include the following:

  • Progress made in the areas of caregiver protective capacity and remediation of the issues that caused the child to enter foster care
  • The plan to prevent the circumstances that led to the child's removal from reoccurring
  • Formal or informal supports that can remain involved with the family following case closure
  • Linkage to community resources that might provide future support

Case closure is appropriate once the permanency plan goals are achieved. The case manager shall consider the following when ending services with families:

  • Family preparation: Throughout the life span of the case, families should be knowledgeable regarding what requirements are needed for case closure and should be engaged regularly regarding their level of progress made toward that end.
  • Developing support systems: Families should be assisted in developing formal and informal systems that can support them during and after DFCS involvement.